Mate Selection in Modern India

Date of Completion

January 2010


Anthropology, Cultural|Sociology, Theory and Methods|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies|South Asian Studies




This dissertation examines attitudes towards mate selection and marriage among Hindus in Bangalore, India. Globalization recharged India's economy and has perhaps provided a more permanent foothold to Western cultural practices, including those concerning mate selection and marriage. Media portray young Indian transnational workers as budding capitalists swayed by Western values, yet data assessing such a cultural transition do not exist. This study employs ethnographic and quantitative methods to assess whether young transnational employees do, in fact, think differently than their elders and their non-globalized peers. Informant groups are: Marriageable men and women (18–35) working for transnational companies and in traditional occupations and parents of marriageable children belonging to either group. Research methods include an analysis of matrimonial advertisements, semi-structured interviews, and a structured survey. ^ Semi-structured interviews and surveys reveal significant differences between male and female marriageable children and between generations, but not based on occupation. Matrimonials indicate a preference for caste-endogamous marriage, beautiful brides and financially-secure grooms. Parents and marriageable children differ on the criteria they consider important in choosing a spouse and on their general model of marriage. Parents favor caste-endogamous marriages arranged by family elders. Marriageable children express greater support for love marriages and strongly desire a prolonged courtship period (a modern Western practice) before making the decision to marry. Many marriageable women consider marriage an equal partnership and desire a spouse who will blend easily with friends and family. Some women are willing to risk social sanctions in order to find their perfect match on their own terms. Marriageable men desire physically attractive spouses in addition to many of the same criteria that women cite. However, for most men, conforming to their families' wishes trumped their own preferences. I explain the differing models of mate selection and marriage as consequences of religious and cultural beliefs, economics, and evolutionary adaptation. This study contributes to the field by providing detailed, ethnographically-supported quantitative data on mate selection and marriage in contemporary Indian culture. Additionally, these findings confirm a shift in attitudes and the emergence of youthful individualism within the context of a traditionally hierarchic, patriarchic and collective society. ^